A long time ago, George Barna was prophetic in something he predicted about the church of the future. He said, “Local churches must take a hard look at their performance and dedicate themselves to excellence in all they do. In today’s marketplace, people are critical and unforgiving. They have high expectations, and they give an organization only one chance to impress. In this type of environment, a church would be better off doing a few things with excellence rather than many things merely adequately” (The Frog in the Kettle, 24).
Those words could have been penned today, but he wrote them over 20 years ago! Not much has changed – people are still critical and unforgiving. The church and its Bible study groups must get it right the first time – or else. Bible study groups must be excellent.
Excellence in the “Breakout Church”
Thom Rainer determined through his research that some churches move out of platueaued conditions by focusing on excellence. Breakout churches, the ones who break out of a plateau, did so by intentionally focusing on excellence. “The breakout churches were not churches of excellence in every conceivable area. They chose the areas in which they could be excellent and did not attempt to do everything else” (Breakout Churches, p. 134).
Excellence in Bible Study Groups
A church staff on which I once served took a retreat one spring. One of the goals was for us to come up with a definition of excellence. After much debate and deliberation, we decided that our definition of excellence was as follows:
Excellence is an attention to the detail
This simple but profound definition enabled us to help our group leaders focus on being excellent. We didn’t succeed in every group, but we succeeded more often than we failed. Here are 5 details that your group (or the groups you supervise as a staff leader) can focus on to create excellence:
- Fast follow-up. The faster you reach out to a prospective new group member the better. Surveys have demonstrated that the longer you wait to contact a guest who attended the church or your Bible study group you lead, the less likely they are to return a second time.
- PSGs for every member and guest. This is certainly an attention to the detail, and it makes a big difference, especially for guests. Be sure to have enough extra copies of Personal Study Guides for every group member who visits your group over the course of a particular study. I have a short stack on a table in my classroom, and you can bet that every guest in my group receives one, plus an invitation to join our group again the following week (but this time the guest can come prepared, having read ahead the next Bible study lesson we’ll study as a group).
- Clean classrooms. Nothing is more of a turn-off to potential group members than a cluttered classroom. Attention to the detail demands that we regularly examine our meeting place through the eyes of a guest. Old posters, maps, and charts need to come down off the walls. Broken equipment and/or furniture needs to be repaired or thrown out. Nothing should be allowed to pile up or stack up in the corners. We may not see these kinds of things because we have become used to them being in our gathering place, but they are highly visible to guests.
- Friendly folks. Train your group members to be extremely friendly to guests. A quick introduction, an engaging conversation, and a heart-felt invitation to come back to the group for the next study can do wonders. It’s a small thing, but remember, excellence is in the details – and details are always small things. I’ve visited groups and was never spoken to by a single group member – nor the group leader in some cases. I know first-hand how important it is to be in a group with friendly people who really care that you are there.
- Well-prepared group leaders. A well-prepared group leader is the most important factor in whether or not a person returns to the group. This doesn’t mean the group leader is a Bible study expert, but it does mean they know what they are going to say, questions they are going to ask, and things they are going to lead the group to do. And this can’t be done with excellence if group leaders consistently prepare late in the week – or worse yet, on Saturdays!